Stressed? Me?

By Greg Laraia, ATC

One of the most common issues we see in NYC runners here at Custom Performance is stress. I know, this is NYC and everyone is stressed, but here’s the thing; if you are a runner with a full time job and a “full time” running program, you are probably stressed - both physically and mentally.

Okay, so how is stress related to our running? Stress is tough on the body and mind, and can be displayed in a many ways, including stress fractures, mental fatigue, physical fatigue, anxiety, and overload/burnout.

Stress Fractures are one of the most common bony injuries we see in runners. A stress fracture typically means that either training intensity, duration, or frequency are too high. Stress fractures can also come from lack of recovery time, improper nutrition, and even mental stress. If this is something you feel` yourself running into, get help. These issues don’t improve with time; they will actually get worse. Plan ahead; have a map planned out in case any issues arise. Physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, talk therapy…  have resources ready, just in case. Listening to your body is key for detecting and avoiding stress fractures and avoiding them. If something feels wrong, don’t ignore it. Take care of your body and it will take care of you.

Mental Fatigue is very common in runners who are also working full time during intense training cycles (marathon training, anyone?). With mental fatigue, you may experience a lack of sleep, the feeling of needing more time in a day, or built up anxiety. Want to avoid running-related mental fatigue? First, make sure your plan works with your everyday life. Don’t sign up for a plan that you know you can’t handle. You can always add more if needed. Second, write things down! This will take the stress of having to remember what’s next in the day or what else you have to do this week; just like a training plan for running, but for your everyday life! Make time for yourself! This is a big one, but add this to your plan: self appreciation and self care are very important in reducing stress throughout your life.  

Physical Fatigue tends to build over time, and the hardest part is finding the happy medium between pushing the limits but knowing what the limits are. The feeling of being “run down” or constant body tiredness is a sign that you may be physically fatigued. I’m not only talking about muscle tiredness or soreness from a hard workout. If you are having a hard time balancing your work/run/home life, then  you are probably physically fatiguing yourself. Try making it a point to have recovery days; make an entire day revolve around rest and recovery. It can be multiple days or just one, but everyone needs at least one. Really focus on this! I’m talking about no classes, no physical activity, and no stressful work. It’s not the easiest thing to do but I promise it’s worth it.

Anxiety can rule your life. Anxiety can ruin races, it can ruin your work life, and it can even take over your personal life. This will probably be the one thing that runs you down more than any of the others. The good news is that help is available. This goes back to mapping out your plan and making sure all the pieces are in place. A good support system can change your mentality on anything. One of the keys to beating anxiety is talking it out; whatever the problem or issue, just talk about it. Bring it to light and simplify it. Don’t let the small things beat you. If you’re sticking to your plan and talking to your friends and your anxiety still isn’t subsiding, talk to a mental health professional. It’s worth it.

Overload/Burnout is the end of it all. You will feel all of the above almost all the time, not somewhere anyone wants to be. You will be drained, mentally run down, physically tired, and probably a bit more emotional than usual. When you’re experiencing burnout, you are at a much  higher risk of injury and you should seriously consider shutting down and taking some time off from physical activity. Being able to notice these signs and symptoms will allow you take care of the issue before an even more serious one arises. The only option at this point is to start fresh. Take some down time (no less than a week), and start over from square one. Find your support system and map out your plan of action. This is an activity you can do daily, weekly or monthly.

If any of this sounds like you, reach out. Reach out to your PT, your trainer, your friends, your therapist… Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Building and cultivating a community around your running and addressing problems when they come up will make you a better runner!